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Craggin’ Classic: Fall Highball in Bishop

Posted on: December 6th, 2012 by Western Region

Craggin’ Classic: a Fall Highball in Bishop
by AAC Arizona Section Co-Chair, Jeff Snyder 

The Buttermilk Boulders

Climber on the Sunshine Boulder

On a cool, autumn weekend in November, as part of my never ending quest to explore new climbing communities and meet others who share my passions, fellow Flagstaffian Jack Hereford and I made the trek from Northern Arizona to Bishop, California for the American Alpine Club’s annual Fall Highball Craggin’ Classic. With a full weekend of events, The AAC, with the help of numerous national and local sponsors, capped off my 2012 year with an unforgettable weekend.

Bishop, a sleepy town nestled in California’s Owen’s Valley—found between the sheer and stunning Eastern Sierra and the equally-as-tall White Mountain Range—is famous for its juggernaut granite “pebbles” that dot the base of the mountains. For the last 40 years, and beginning well before the invention of the crash pad, climbers have been exploring new lines on the enormous Buttermilk boulders. For many climbers, roped and unroped, Bishop has long been a mecca for learning the subtle ways of granite climbing as well as the necessary head-space to make difficult moves high off the deck.

Workin' hard or hardly workin'?

Jeff Snyder and Jack Hereford

I made my first pilgrimage to Bishop back in 2007, when I was on my very first climbing road trip. After falling in love with the area it became instantly apparent that the future of climber access to the sensitive area was going to be in the hands of the small Bishop community or those willing to be visiting stewards. The increasing popularity of bouldering has brought heavy crowds in from around the country and around the world contributing to expanding camp sites, expanding parking areas, weaves of trails cutting up the hillsides, and even graffiti which has scarred the fragile area.  One of the goals of the Fall Highball Craggin’ Classic is to help protect this area, through conservation and stewardship projects, while also bringing the climbing community together for music, beer, climbing slideshows, and high-fives. 

The weekend of festivities started with a viewing of the 2012 Reel Rock Film Tour. Over 150 attendees squeezed themselves into the cozy, unique, and one-time-gas-station, Mill Creek Station. The Stations’ owner, Roger Berryberry, has created a small gallery dedicated to the life of Warren Harding, and has lined the walls with interesting and historical photographs and journal entries from the golden era of rock climbing. Roger was kind enough to donate the venue so that all proceeds could go directly back into the climbing community. With beverages in hand it was enjoyable to watch as our climbing heroes inspired us with films from around the world and even from Bishop!

Cleaning up the Milks

Workin’ on the trails.

On Saturday, despite freezing temps, the Bishop climbing community met up at the Buttermilks early to start a full morning of trail, trash, and crag stewardship. The American Alpine Club, with the help of the Access Fund, wrangled the group of 70 with coffee from Black Sheep Coffee Roasters and bagels provided by Wilson’s Eastside Sports. The US Forest Service and Friends of the Inyo, a local conservation non-profit, came out to aid in work projects such as graffiti removal, trail maintenance, and illegal campsite removal. I was fortunate enough to get to work alongside many different climbers from all over the world on several different but equally important projects. After years of enjoying the Buttermilks it was rewarding to leave a positive finger print on the future of Bishop rock climbing. Like any truly successful trail day, the site projects wrapped up with many people walking around on the refreshed trail systems visiting some of their own projects of a different nature.  All in all, over 200 hours of conservation work was completed in the Buttermilk Country.

Climber’s Reception at Mill Creek

That evening, as part of the Highball finale, Bishop climbers returned to Mill Creek Stations’ beautiful “backyard” to celebrate the successful trail day with a Climber’s Reception hosted by New Belgium Brewing Company. With cold beers in hand and fire pits blazing, climbers were able to cheers the mornings hard work and talk about the day’s projects. The American Alpine Club held an excellent silent auction stacked with bundles of excellent items to help raise funds to support the AAC Western Region’s Live Your Dream Grant, a locally developed and administered grant that supports climbers from California, Nevada, and Arizona in realizing their climbing ambitions and dreams.

When the air became cold and the sky dark, we filled our glasses and headed back into the Station for a slideshow from professional climber Matt Wilder. Through comical narratives, striking photographs, and even video clips, Matt presented his love for bouldering as well as his exceptional talents on a rope.  His account of first accents in Bishop and his exciting neo-trad routes in hometown Boulder, CO show his passion and aptitude for, at times, scary climbing endeavors. After the slideshow, The Trespassers, an Eastern Sierra bluegrass quartet played their rustic tunes well into the night. Their warm western folk music provided the perfect mountain melodies for the crowd to finish their drinks and find themselves on the dance floor.

Bluegrass by the Trespassers

A “Pilgrimage” as a climber is an irresistible experience. It is an opportunity to reexamine your intention and a chance to return to that very first experience. Personally, the Bishop Highball was a chance to give back to climbing; a “sport” that instills lessons and generates unforgettable journeys.

After 3 days of socializing and stewardship it was gratifying to end the trip with a swift visit to the Buttermilks. Under blue skies and notorious crisp Sierra temperatures, Jack and I found our way back to the limitless granite boulder fields beneath the Eastern Sierra. From the Sunshine boulder, the first boulder I climbed in 2007, I found a moment to reflect on the revitalized trails, rejuvenated community, and the impending opportunity climbers will have on the future of Bishop climbing. Bishop, thank you for welcoming me back and reminding that small communities acting in big ways are the essential elements that ripen our experience as rock climbers.


Thanks to The American Alpine Club for hosting the Fall Highball Craggin’ Classic and their numerous sponsors: Mountain Hardware, New Belgium Brewing Co., Revo, Mountain Tools, Fixe Hardware, Rock and Ice, La Sportiva, Metolius, Sterling Rope, Wilson’s Eastside Sports, Black Sheep Coffee Roasters, Friends of the Inyo, the Access Fund, the US Forest Service, the BLM, Clif Bar, the Rubber Room, Pilates with Jessi, Sierra Salve, Vertigo Climbing, Five-Ten, and Evolv.


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